Just a week after appearing at a major crossroads, the New Zealand National Basketball League has been invigorated with the reintroduction of two major teams.
The Auckland Pirates and Waikato Pistons will both take their place in next season's competition, with the former's inclusion coming mere days after Basketball Auckland announced the team's withdrawal.
Following that decision, made after Basketball Auckland questioned the financial sustainability of the league, the NBL was facing a season without teams in three of the country's four biggest cities.
But with the Pistons back after a year in exile, also due to financial reasons, next season's competition is suddenly shaping as the strongest in recent years.
"The league's going exceptionally well and the standard is very high," said NBL chairman Sam Rossiter-Stead. "People that have been in the league for 30 years, like Nick Mills of the Wellington Saints, claim the standard's never been higher."
That may be the case but, off the court, Basketball Auckland raised serious questions about the league's financial model when it withdrew the defending champion Pirates. Basketball Auckland chairman Chris Ford said at the time the financial risks for the union were too high to support a team, but he did hint at potential backers "coming out of the woodwork" when the withdrawal was made public.
That has proven to be the case with Stead confirming the Pirates have moved away from Basketball Auckland and will operate independently under new ownership, the identity of whom is set to be announced on Monday.
The Pirates were one of seven teams to go on hiatus or withdraw from the competition in recent seasons and Ford said, with many teams walking a financial tightrope, something had to change if the league is to flourish.
"It is what it is at the moment, until such time that Basketball New Zealand wants to take a deep dive into the league and understand its financial viability a bit better," he said. "It's definitely got a future in some form - we need a premier competition - but the format of which still has some questions around it that have to be resolved at some point."
Rossiter-Stead disagreed with the dire forecast and said the NBL is as healthy as it has been since the clubs assumed control from Basketball New Zealand in 2008.
"That was [Basketball Auckland's] own financial position but, in terms of the league generally, it's never been in a healthier state. Crowds are increasing year on year. When the current board took the NBL over there was a $200,000 deficit, and we've recorded a small surplus in each of the last four years."
With basketball in New Zealand on a high following the success of the Breakers in the Australian NBL, Rossiter-Stead believed the league was in a good position to tap into a growing fanbase.
"We've got Tab Baldwin back coaching in the league this year, and guys like Pero Cameron and Paul Henare. It's going to be a very competitive league, which is fantastic." APNZ